Skip to Content

What is ALICE?

What is ALICE?

ALICE has become a popular acronym to describe middle-income earners who make too much for means-tested welfare programs like SNAP but not enough to survive comfortably without them. People who fall into the ALICE category often need help but are excluded from typical assistance programs.


In this article, we’ll discuss what ALICE means, how to tell if you’re in the ALICE population, and what to do if you’re ALICE and still need help.

What is ALICE?

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. This term was originally created to describe households that struggle to afford basic household necessities even though they earn more than the Federal Poverty Level.

To understand this issue better, let’s break this acronym down by each of its parts.

Asset Limited

Being asset limited means that you don’t have a lot of financial resources or savings. You don’t have the financial resources to deal with unexpected financial emergencies like car repairs or medical bills, so when bad things happen you’re likely to go into debt.


It’s important to note that assets aren’t just limited to dollars in a savings account. There are many things that can count as assets, including property, stocks, bonds, and other valuable items that can be easily liquidated into cash.

Households that are asset limited are at risk of taking on too much debt in emergency situations. They also struggle to buy homes, pursue advanced education, or take other steps to improve their financial stability.

Income Constrained

Being income constrained isn’t just about how much you make; it’s about how far that income goes. If your income doesn’t cover your essential expenses with enough left over to save for the future, then you are likely income constrained.

People who meet the ALICE criteria typically make more than the Federal Poverty Level but not enough to comfortably afford all of their essential expenses. They may not be able to afford all of their bills every month. Some ALICE households rely on credit cards and payday loans to make ends meet.

Basically, if you are income constrained, it means that you are living paycheck to paycheck. You can’t save for the future or cover emergency expenses. It’s very stressful.


The Employed part of ALICE is very important. Many people mistakenly believe that America’s poor are lazy or unemployed. However, ALICE households are typically employed. Often, they have at least one full-time job and many supplement that income with gig work as well.

Unfortunately, many jobs in America do not pay a living wage. These low-wage jobs that ALICE workers hold may not pay enough and they may lack essential benefits like health care or retirement plans.


Being employed and still unable to afford your basic necessities can be emotionally and psychologically draining. Since people in the ALICE category do not qualify for government assistance, it can be especially frustrating.

Are You ALICE?

ALICE households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level but not enough to comfortably meet their necessary household expenses. Many people who fit the ALICE criteria are single parents, young adults, seniors, hourly wage workers and gig workers.

The United Way defines essential household expenses as the following:

If you can’t comfortably pay those bills and put a little aside for savings, then you fit the definition of ALICE.

Resources for ALICE Households

If you identify as an ALICE household, there are places you can turn for help. Use the guidance in this section to connect to resources that can alleviate some of the strain on your budget.

Means-Tested Programs

Even though your income is higher than the Federal Poverty Level, you may still qualify for some means-tested programs. That’s because some programs allow you to earn up to 200% or more of the Federal Poverty Level and still qualify.


Some popular means-tested programs include:

These are just a few of the programs that are available that may be able to help you.

Food Banks

Food banks are a great way to get help with your food budget. These organizations provide donated food to families who need a little extra help.

Some food banks will ask you for documentation about your finances, while others don’t. Some food banks serve everyone without asking any questions.

You’ll need to find the food bank in your area to find out what their requirements are and if they can help you.


Libraries often offer free streaming services and other resources that can help you make ends meet. They may also help you with workforce services, like improving your resume or finding a better job. Recently, we’ve even found libraries that are providing long-term loans for laptops and internet hotspots!

It is my sincerely held belief that libraries are one of the most underrated tools for low-to-moderate income earners in America. There are many ways that your local library may be able to help and connect you with resources.

Low Income Relief

Our information service helps low-to-moderate income earners save money and get free stuff! We are always happy to help people find additional resources to help their income stretch farther.

Check out some of these helpful guides:

You can also follow our news updates to find more ways that you can save money and get free stuff. For example, we recently found one area that is offering free child care for the first 30 days after you get a new job!

Free Tax Help

Many low-to-moderate income families leave money on the table when they file their taxes. After all, the paperwork is very complicated and it’s hard to be sure that you’re getting all the credits you’re entitled to.

If you need help, find a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinic in your area. These volunteer accountants can look over your paperwork and make sure that you’re getting all of the money back that you are entitled to. This can make a big difference!

Unclaimed Money

You may be missing out on money! Every state has an unclaimed revenue department that is tasked with holding on to unclaimed funds. This money comes from many different sources, like forgotten utility deposits, old bank balances and unused gift certificates.

Check and see if you have any unclaimed funds today! Be sure to check every state you’ve lived in so you don’t miss anything.


Many people think that hard work is a guaranteed way to escape poverty, but the experiences of the ALICE population show us that isn’t always the case. It’s entirely possible to work a full-time job (and sometimes more than a full-time job) and still be unable to meet your basic needs.

By understanding the ALICE situation, it becomes obvious that financial struggles are a real and complex issue that affect more than just low income Americans.

Catherine Marucci

Tuesday 14th of November 2023

Hi Kimberly. Here are some possible options: